ASBO Jesus

January 13, 2011

Yesterday, as I was surfing around wasting time (instead of writing like I should’ve been), I ran across a new blog: The Ongoing Adventures of ASBO Jesus, courtesy the Right Reverend Jeremy Smith. (you gotta love a pastor that finds a way to use Star Wars and the SyFy series Firefly to teach about Jesus).  Jeremy posted a link to ASBO Jesus on his Twitter feed and, since his links are usually pretty good, I followed it.  It took me to this cartoon:

I liked it; it has a nice, little snarky overtone.  So, I looked at some more and I really like this guy.  Not saying I get everything, because he’s English and humor doesn’t always make it across the cultural divide.  I get enough to enjoy it, though.  I was curious about the title of his blog and with just a little detective work (I clicked the “About” button), I found this:  “btw for the non british among you… an ‘asbo’ is an ‘anti-social behaviour order’… the courts here award them to people who are deemed to be constant trouble in their neighbourhoods… presumably according to their neighbours!”  And, that my friends, sums up Jesus about as neatly as anything I’ve ever seen.

At first, I really liked the idea that Jesus was considered constant trouble by some of his neighbors.  Then, it dawned on me that if I’m going to follow Him, I need to earn the same reputation.  On the upside, I have no problem with that whatsoever.  Nothing makes me happier than tweaking the noses of those who think they’re right and everyone else is wrong.  Pretentious, holier-than-thou bluenoses who act like their shit doesn’t stink need someone like me around to keep them from going overboard.  The downside of this is my preferred method really isn’t the one He’d like me to use.  Snarky, smart-ass remarks and, occassionally, calling people idiots outright doesn’t fit in with that whole “love your neighbor” thing.  No, I realized, I have do stuff.  I have to work at being like Jesus and do my best to bring the Kingdom about here on Earth.  And, that my friends, is whole lot harder than throwing rocks at assholes.


Broken PtII

January 10, 2011

My last post was a bit…, let’s say agitated.  I was upset by the turn of events on Saturday, an emotion aggravated by the fact that people seemed to be more concerned with pointing fingers at each  instead finding a meaningful way of dealing with this tragedy.  I’d hoped that Sunday morning when I went to church I’d get some direction, maybe a little perspective.  No such luck.  It was barely mentioned, a postscript to the service.  Diana Butler Bass, in an article for Huffington Post, spoke about the experience of her husband’s family the Sunday after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King.  Days after one the biggest events of the decade, one that spawned nationwide mourning, the minister preached as if nothing had happened.  They had expectations, Bass said, and heavy hearts.  They wanted the man they looked to for spiritual guidance to help them make sense of that senseless act and, he didn’t deliver.  They left church disappointed that day and, after while, left that church all together.  I can relate to their disappointment.  I wanted more, needed more.  And, I didn’t get it. 

I’m not the only person who was disappointed Sunday.  Author Karen Zacharias tells about her Sunday experience in a blog entry titled “Cancel Church, please“.  It wasn’t a regular Sunday morning and she didn’t want the regular Sunday stuff.  But, that’s what she got.  I suppose I could tell her “Don’t feel like the Lone Ranger, darlin”, but that doesn’t help.  I know misery loves company and all, but company only goes so far.  Too many of us needed our spiritual leaders to step up and they didn’t.  That’s not to say no one spoke up.  Kimberly Knight, a pastor with The Beatitudes Society, did on the Darkwood Blog.  Lia ,aka Rogue Reverend(I don’t know her last name), posted her sermon for Sunday on her blog.  I wish I’d heard that instead of the same old same old about Jesus’ baptism and not just because she quoted from my favorite book of all time.  I think it’s a little sad that I got more help from words on a computer screen than I did in church.  Finally, I’m going to close with a quote from Dr. King, one that we should all take to heart:

“History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people.”


January 9, 2011

Some days, I get glimpses of what the Kingdom will look like.  I see it whenever the kids in my youth group get excited about a mission trip to help people who don’t share their advantages; I see it when the men’s group of a church goes out in the community and starts restoration work on house that burned because the owner’s insurance coverage sucked and their funds are very limited; I see it when a church opens it’s food pantry to anyone who professes a need; I see it in my friend who gave up a six-figure salary and a career in the financial industry to run a homeless ministry in downtown Raleigh, NC.  Not today, though.  Today, I saw the abject brokenness of this world and it makes me want to cry.

Unless you live under a rock, you know that today a disturbed young man (possibly with an accomplice) walked up to Arizona Representative Gabrielle Giffords while she spoke to her constituents and shot her in the face.  Then, he turned and began to fire into the crowd, wounding as many as 18 people and killing 5.  The dead included a federal judge and a nine-year old girl.  In what universe is it acceptable to hurt that many totally innocent people?  I don’t understand this; it makes no sense.  And, that pisses me off.

I suppose it’s human nature to look for meaning in the meaningless.  It’s why conspiracy theories that fly in the face of common sense thrive no matter what.  I’m sure there are plenty of people with explanations to offer; they’re already cropping up.  One blames it on rhetoric and divisive politics.  Pima County Sherriff Clarence Dupnik said the suspect “may have a mental issue,” and that people like that “are especially susceptible to vitriol.”  Another pointed to a shot on Sarah Palin’s website, one that was removed shortly after the shootings.  Here it is:

Maybe all this contributed to this tragedy, maybe it didn’t.  I don’t know and, right now, I don’t care.  I don’t care about blame, I don’t give shit about who’s responsible or what this young man’s politics were.  None of that matters.  What matters is that people are dead and that affects us all.  At this particular moment, the earthly Kingdom that Jesus gave His life to bring about has never felt farther away.  Right now, I can’t see that we’ve made an inch of progress since He left us.  And, that makes me sick at heart.

Today, I had to make a trip to Greenville NC (about an hour away) to help my oldest daughter get back into her apartment after Christmas break.  Normally, I wouldn’t have to do that, but someone decided they had greater need of her television than she did, so they kicked in her window and took it.   I don’t care about the TV; they’re making new ones everyday, so that’s easily replaced.  What’s going to be difficult is dealing with the violation that comes with a break-in and the fact that she doesn’t feel safe in her own home anymore.  I keep telling myself it’s just a part of this broken world we live in, but it’s a part I’d give anything to keep either of my girls from experiencing.  Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way. 

Even after all the stuff I’ve said on here about how everyone gets forgiven for whatever wrong they’ve committed, I’m struggling with this.  All because someone decided that larceny was preferable to getting a job, a smart, funny, vibrant young woman is afraid to sleep in her own bed.  I know that happens everyday and for much worse than the theft of some electronics.  But, until now, that was academic; not any more, it’s a very real proposition.  I’m proud of her though; she’s sucking it up and doing what needs to be done, no matter how scary it may seem.  I, however, am not handling it nearly as well.  You see, there’s a part of me, a distinctly unChristian part, which would love nothing better than to lay hands on the perpetrator of this act.  And, I don’t mean “lay hands on” in that churchy way, either.  If I could, what I’d do wouldn’t pass for prayer meeting.  The logical part of me keeps saying that I need to forgive whoever did this; but that more atavistic part, the part that likes the eye for eye, tooth for tooth thing, can’t wrap itself around forgiveness.  Right now, I’m so far from forgiveness, it’s ridiculous.

The thing is, I don’t want to forgive these assholes for what they did.  When they kicked in that window, they did more than just take a television set; they took her stability, her security, that silly idea that no matter what happens “out there”, everything was safe “in here”.  What I want is to take something similar from them, to make them feel just as shitty as my little girl.  I can’t do that, though.  And then, I remember that whenever I talk to people about wrongs done to them, one of the last things I say is “You know you’re going to have forgive them for this, don’t you?”  I hate it when my own words bite me in the ass.

Gordon Gekko Was Wrong

January 3, 2011

Greed is not good.  I never understood that statement; that may be because I’ve never seen the movie “Wall Street” or it’s sequel “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps.  In a speech last year, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone told the Italian Senate  “Greed Market has substituted free market” and went on the say “Once profit becomes the exclusive goal, if it is produced by improper means and without the common good as its ultimate end, it risks destroying wealth and creating poverty”.  A report on Sixty Minutes last night makes those words ring with truth. 

It seems that in 2002, an employee of GlaxoSmithKline started telling her bosses that there were major problems with a manufacturing facility the company contracted with in Puerto Rico.  Problems with sterile environments, irregularities and even mix-ups with drugs.  In one case, an anti-bacterial ointment was supposed to made in a sealed tank to prevent contamination.  Workers were seen opening the tank and sticking their bodies in to scrape the walls of the tank with paddles.   This kind of thing went on for months.  The employee in the report was let go in one GSK’s down-sizing moves, so she turned the evidence that didn’t seem to move her bosses over the FDA who executed a search warrant, shut down the plant and seized hundreds of millions of dollars worth of defective drugs.  In case you’re wondering how the above incident proves Cardinal Bertone’s words, I say this.  When asked why the workers were violating the sterility of the anti-bacterial creme, she answered “It saved money”. 

This is disturbing to me, because A)A few years back I was undergoing chemotherapy for colon cancer and I took one the drugs mentioned and B) my daughter and I have medical conditions which require medication and I’m sure this is just the tip of the iceberg.  There’s no way GSK is the only company doing this.  And, it’s not just drugs that are a problem.  What about toys being recalled because of high levels of lead in the paint used on them?  Or, glasses given away as a promotion for a large fast food chain with unacceptable levels of cadmium in the paint?  The list of this stuff is long and unfortunately, it’s not just corporate America that’s infected with greed.  It’s widespread at the personal level, too.  Every time we allow the wealthiest 2% of Americans a tax cut while those on the opposite end of the spectrum struggle to survive, that’s greed.  Every time we complain about healthcare reform while people in this country die from easily cured diseases and go broke in the process, that’s greed.  Every time we drive past someone panhandling and assume the worst so we don’t have to dig up a little change, that’s greed.  And what’s so damn good about that?

As I watched the video clip above, I was struck by two things.  First, I haven’t heard much about Michael Vick’s dog-fighting offenses from conservatives until President Obama said something nice about him and second, Tucker Carlson’s definition of Christian is much different from mine.  From what he said in the video, he believes in second chances for himself but not for others.  Unfortunately, he’s not alone in that.  Sometimes we Christians can be so hard-hearted it’s ridiculous.  Especially when you consider what our rabbi had to say about on the subject.  In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus told us “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy” and “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift“.  Later in Matthew, we read “Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?”  Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times“.  And, as I’ve said before, that’s not a literal 77 or even 7 times 70; He means that there’s no limit on how many times you forgive someone.  Easier said than done, I know.  But, where did you get the idea it would be?

I’ve said this before, but I am a Christian.  That means I follow the way of Christ and His words as I quoted above show the fallacy of this hardness of heart.  Everyone gets forgiven.  Not just those like us, those we like, those we agree with and certainly not just us; Everyone.   I suppose this lack of forgiveness comes from the Old Testament and Mosaic Law; eye for an eye and all that.   But, wasn’t the whole point of Jesus to give us a better way to live than the old covenant represented by the law.    He brought a new covenant, one built on love and forgiveness.  So, to my ears, statements like Tucker’s that Michael Vick should have been executed aren’t very Christian.  But, they are far too common.

A Christian Nation?

December 29, 2010

Almost two weeks ago, when Congress was arguing about taxes and extended unemployment benefits, Steven Colbert ran the following segment on his show:  (I wish I could embed this, but WordPress doesn’t support Comedy Central’s video player)

There were a lot of things I liked the about this clip, but the statement “If this is going to be a Christian Nation that doesn’t help the poor, then we’ve got to pretend that Jesus was just as selfish as we are or we’ve got acknowledge that He commanded us to love the poor and serve the needy without condition and then admit…, we just don’t want to do it” rated a fist pump and a “YES!”  Why did I like this so much?  Because I hear conservatives constantly going on about how the United States is a Christian Nation and then advocating some very unChristian things.  Like, cutting taxes for the rich and blocking social programs that help the poor.  Quoting Colbert again, “Jesus was always flappin’ gums about the poor, but not once did he call for tax cuts for the richest two percent of Romans”.   In the story of the rich young ruler, Jesus tells the wealthy man to sell all his possessions and follow Him.  So, if you’re really a Christian, asking you to pay more in taxes is actually less than what Jesus was asking for.  I don’t see the problem here.

The trouble with saying that we’re a Christian nation isn’t so much about history or rights or any of the other things that get brought when this is mentioned.  The trouble is that we don’t act like a Christian nation.  We never have.  In our history, we’ve enslaved people, persecuted them because of their race, creed, sexual preference or any number of other reasons, fought wars that were anything but just, created a permanent underclass and worked very hard to keep them there…, I could go on, but I think you get the point.   I’m drawn to portions of the quote I mentioned in the first paragraph, “If this is going to be a Christian Nation…we’ve got acknowledge that He commanded us to love the poor and serve the needy without condition…”  Yeah, I just picked certain parts of that quote; I picked the parts that gave me hope.  Hope that maybe someday, we’ll live up to the title of “Christian Nation” and do the things in that out-of-context quote.  Hope that one day, as a nation, we’ll love the poor and serve the needy…, without condition.

So, This is Christmas

December 28, 2010

I know Christmas day has already passed, but this message of this song goes beyond that one particular day. 

So this is Christmas
And what have you done
Another year over
A new one just begun
And so this is Christmas
I hope you have fun
The near and the dear ones
The old and the young

A very merry Christmas
And a happy New Year
Let’s hope it’s a good one
Without any fear

And so this is Christmas (War is Over, if you want it, war is over now)repeat with verse
For weak and for strong
The rich and the poor ones
The road is so long
So happy Christmas
For black and for white
For yellow and red ones
Let’s stop all the fight

A very merry Christmas
And a happy New Year
Let’s hope it’s a good one
Without any fear

And so this is Christmas (War is over, if you want it, war is over now) repeat with verse
And what have we done
Another year over
And a new one just begun
And so this is Christmas
And we hope you have fun
The near and the dear ones
The old and the young

A very merry Christmas
And a happy New Year
Let’s hope it’s a good one
Without any fear
War is over, if you want it
War is over now

Merry Christmas

Here’s hoping that one Christmas soon, no one’s sons or daughters will be in harm’s way.  Until then, why don’t we remember everyone in all war zones everywhere in our prayers, that they all remain safe and whole and find some peace.  If only for a little while.

It’s a Calling

December 24, 2010

Yesterday, in the city of Chicago, two men lost their lives.  That may not sound like much, considering that 458 people were murdered there last year, which averages out to 1.25478 people a day.  That’s just the murders, it doesn’t take into account accidental deaths, deaths from natural causes and all the other things that happen to mortal human beings.  But, these two particular men were doing something out of the ordinary.  They were Chicago firefighters and they lost their lives trying to save others.  Joel Hood, Anne Sweeney and Stacy St. Clair, reporters for the Chicago Tribune said it best:

“It would have been safer for Chicago firefighters Edward Stringer and Corey Ankum to battle the burning building from a distance Wednesday morning, to shrug it off as a long-abandoned South Shore laundry business where no one worked or lived.

But that’s not who they were.

Concerned that homeless people may have been taking refuge from the cold, Stringer and Ankum were among the firefighters searching the burning building around daybreak when a roof came crashing down on them.”

This story has special significance for me because I’m a firefighter.  I know, big surprise considering the address of this blog.  I’ve been one for almost 21 years and, throughout that time, “life safety” has been pounded into me.  And, the main life I should be concerned with is my own, because if I get hurt, how am I supposed to help anyone else?  There’s a reason training staffs in fire departments across the country make that point over and over.  It’s because of what happened yesterday in Chicago.  Logically, no one should have been in that building.  It was old, it was abandoned and, in 2007, had been declared unsafe by city building inspectors.  There were no positive reports of people trapped in the building, just someone saying that homeless people sometimes sheltered there in bad weather.  The smart play would’ve been to set up master streams and ladder trucks and fight this fire with big hoses and big water, dumping water in until it ran out in the street.  But, if anyone had been inside, they’d have never survived.  So, 17 men were on a roof when they probably shouldn’t have been, working to find people who may (or may not) have been inside when it collapsed, injuring 12 and killing 2.  If you’re not a firefighter, you’re probably wondering what kind of people do that?  Short answer?  People who are called to it.

When I hear the  term “calling”, I tend think of it in a religious context.  And, anyone who’s spent some time in a firehouse knows that it’s not exactly a “churchy” kind of place.  Although women are making inroads, firefighting is still a predominantly male career and anytime you get a bunch of guys together, it can get raunchy.  Yet, at the same time, some of the most deeply religious and devoted family men I know hitch up their suspenders and get on the truck when the buzzer hits.  And, in looking at what these Chicago boys did, I began to realize that being a firefighter follows the way of Christ pretty closely.  We help those who need help without regard to race, creed, color, nationality or status.  This help is without condition, fire departments don’t bill you for coming when you call (well, some do and I find that despicable), no matter how often you call.  And, believe me, some people call A LOT.  But, that’s okay, it’s what we’re here for.  We may not sell all our possessions and give the money to the poor, but sometimes it feels that way.  Believe me when I say no one ever became a firefighter to get rich and, if they did, they were very quickly disabused of that notion.  Usually with their first paycheck.  Yes, we get paid, but, it’s still a life of sacrifice.  In 21 years, I’ve spent Christmas day with family so few times I can count the number on one hand.  And, if I was off Christmas Day, I worked Christmas Eve.  When I say “worked”, I mean a 24 hour shift.  Same for most other holidays, too.  It’s also hard on marriages and families.  It seems like every crisis at home occurs while you’re at work and you’re never off when “normal” people are, so you miss a lot of your kids’ activities.  Then, there’s the part we don’t we really talk about very much.  Every shift, there’s always the lurking possibility that you won’t be going home, that you’ll be asked to give everything.  Yet, somehow, all over the world people get up, put on the uniform and do the job.  There’s not enough money in the world to make anyone do that.  You have to be called.  And, those of us that are wouldn’t have it any other way.

I found this video on Christian Nightmares today.  In the caption, the poster said “I don’t like Bill Maher, but I love his Christmas message”  Watch and see what you think.

I don’t particularly like Maher either, I think he’s a smarmy, condescending know-it-all.  This time, he’s also right.  We’re crazy about stuff in the this country.  Stuff, and the pursuit of it, is really what most of us worship.  If it wasn’t, we wouldn’t be arguing over providing very basic (almost minimal) health care for all our citizens or whether the people who need it the least should get a break on their taxes.  Everybody wants to keep the stuff they have and then go out and get more stuff.  And, nothing brings out this drive to accumulate more than Christmas.  Every year, the store’s are filled with shoppers buying crap that they don’t need and really can’t afford.  We infect our children with this disease, too.  One Christmas afternoon, when my nephew was about 2 or 3, his father (my brother) wanted to look at one of his toys.  This normally sweet, good-natured kid pulled all the things he’d gotten that day into a pile, lay on it and yelled “MINE, MINE, MINE!!!”  Unfortunately, that’s an all too frequent reaction and not just among kids.  Contrast that story with one my grandmother used to tell about her favorite Christmas when she was a little girl.  Grandma was born in 1905 in Volunteer, a little community in the foothills of the North Carolina mountains.  She lived on a small tobacco farm and like most mountain farm families in those days, money was scarce.  Today, we’d call them poor and enact all sorts of social programs; back around 1910, no such programs existed.  Any help that folks got came from church groups and private citizens.  The Christmas I’m talking about, one of those groups got together and gathered some resources so the children in the poor families would get something for Christmas.  Grandma and her brothers and sisters didn’t know all that.  What they knew was, not long after dark, they heard sleigh bells coming up the road to their house.  Then, after the bells stopped, they heard a hearty “Ho, Ho, Ho” and, when Grandpa Chandler opened the door, who stood there but Santa Claus.  He came in, partook of what hospitality the family could offer (to do otherwise would’ve been an insult) and, finally, started passing out presents.  Grandma got an apple, an orange, a little bucket full of hard candy and baby doll.  And, she was elated.  She remembered that Christmas Eve until the day she died at the age 95.  How do you think kids today would react to such a meager haul at Christmas? 

A lot of Christians go around this time of year, saying to anyone that will listen “Jesus is the reason for the season”.  Okay, I’ll buy that, it is “Christ”mas after all.  So, why don’t we start acting like it?  Why don’t we do the things Jesus did, like help the needy, the poor, and the marginalized.  Find someone who’s trying to do that and give them a hand.  Find a family in need and throw them a lifeline.  Hell, just quit thinking the guy panhandling is lazy and should get a job and give him a dollar.  Better yet, give him a dollar or something to eat and talk to him like an actual human being.  That would be a helluva lot better way to celebrate Jesus’ birth than crying over a sweater you don’t need.